Monday, April 18, 2011

Gluten-free Lunch in London?

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London has no shortage of fast, trendy lunch restaurants. Pret A Manger and EAT are the most popular, but you’ll also find Upper Crust in railway stations. These fast-food shops grew out of the traditional sandwich shop, and sadly don’t offer much in the way of gluten-free fare. Pret A Manger’s salads are very good but don’t list the ingredients in the salad dressing. EAT go out of their way to tell you that almost everything HAS gluten in it. It’s almost like a sign that says COELIACS GO AWAY!

So where can you EAT lunch in London? The last thing you want to do while you’re on holiday is spend the whole time looking for a restaurant that understands your dietary requirements. If you do a little research beforehand, you’ll find that London loves you and your gluten-free ways.

On a typical day in London, you’ll walk by a Marks and Spencer (Marks and Sparks) two or three times. They’ve just launched a range of gluten-free sandwiches. If you’re not the sit-down type of luncher and prefer to grab a sandwich on your way to the Big Bus tour, pop by one of these stores and buy a sandwich. If you pass a Waitrose supermarket, you’ll find a gluten-free section with all sorts of goodies.

If you are the sit-down type of lunch person but you don’t want to spend your entire holiday budget in one day, you have to eat at Leon. In terms of concept, this restaurant is fast food; in terms of quality and menu, it’s high quality and tasty food.     
Healthy. Well prepared. And they indicate clearly which menu items are gluten-free with a big GF. There are lots of Leons, so there’s bound to be one near you.

Headed to Camden and Camden Lock Market? If it’s a sunny day, you should. In the middle of Camden Lock Market you’ll find Arepa & Co, a Venezuelan food stall that serves delicious cornbread filled with arepa, cheese, beans, avocado, plantains and other vegetarian ingredients. They state clearly that their bread is gluten-free. And it’s mouth-watering. While you’re in Camden, check out The Stag between Camden Town and Hampstead Heath. I’m told they have two gluten-free beers—although I’ve become a cider fan myself.

If you’re a foodie and you’ve come to London with your suitcases full of money, you have a few more options (as you always do, you rich bastard). Most fine-dining restaurants will go out of their way to accommodate you, but here’s one that I’ve just now found and can’t wait to lug my cash to its doors. L’Autre Pied don’t actually say anything about offering gluten-free fare on their website, but read this excellent review by The Gluten Free Foodie and I think you’ll be making your reservations before you can say sans gluten.

Other Gluten-free London posts:
From the Pub to the Ritz
Gluten-free on the Road
Dinner in London...Gluten-free

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Friday, April 8, 2011

Breakfast in Britain Gluten-free

Flowers in Regent's Park are gluten-free
Yawning you wander down to the breakfast room at your B&B or your hotel. Normally at home you have no problem with breakfast. You know eggs are gluten-free. Bacon too. At home you have some awful gluten-free bread, but it’s OK once it’s toasted and perked up with butter and jam. At home you even have some gluten-free cornflakes that cost you a week’s pay.

“The full English breakfast, sir?”

Because you’re sleepy and hungry, you say “Oh yeah, the fuller the better, Jeeves.”
Coffee is gluten-free.

Moments later you’re staring at a plate heaped with beans and mushrooms and sausages and bacon and scrambled eggs. There’s a baked tomato sitting there looking gluten-free, and the bacon smiles at you harmlessly. But what about the beans and the mushrooms that look like they have to have some sort of seasoning all over them? And sausage? Well it has to be all meat, doesn’t it?

Let’s start with that sausage. You can’t eat it. Most British sausages, unless the package specifically claims otherwise, are NOT gluten-free. Trust me, you’re not missing anything. They taste like the main ingredient is paper. Sorry, HRH, British sausages are not your best contribution to the world’s culinary history.
This is a squirrel. He's gluten-free.

Moving along to the baked beans. At least you’re in the right country to eat baked beans. With all the conflicting information about the gluten-free-edness of Heinz baked beans, I wouldn’t blame you for opting for the beanless breakfast. If, however, you really want the beans, you need to ask your host to see the can. “See the can?” he might ask. “Yes, I need to see the can,” you’ll say. If the can says the product is gluten-free, enjoy the beans.

If the bacon looks like a solid piece of meat, it should be gluten-free. And if your host knows you have CD, he shouldn’t put any seasoning on the meat. Likewise for the stewed or baked tomato. If it looks like a lonely, simply cooked tomato half, it should be fine. And scrambled eggs have to be just eggs, right?

Wrong. If the eggs are scrambled they could be anything made to taste like eggs. There are lots of products on the market, and who knows what’s in them. Most of them have “natural flavours” in them, which boggles my tiny mind. What could anyone put into eggs to make them taste any more like, erm, eggs? Unless you have a hotline to producer of said egg-like product, stay away from scrambled eggs while you’re away from home. Always order fried eggs.
The footbridge to St. Paul's is gluten-free.

In Scotland, you’ll be offered porridge or “oatmeal” as we Yanks call it. Ask your host if they offer gluten-free porridge. It never hurts to ask. There are several brands of gluten-free porridge, so your host might have some.

Marmalade and jams are naturally gluten-free (usually), but without gluten-free bread to spread them on, what good are they? I usually make myself a little mixture of butter and marmalade and lick at it like a mad cow, but that’s just me. If you’re not like me, you can find several varieties of gluten-free bread at good supermarkets like Waitrose. You’ll find precious little at awful supermarkets like ASDA.

Last but certainly not least, no British breakfast would be complete without Marmite. I’ve read everything I can find about the gluten-free-edness of Marmite, a gooey brown yeast extract saltier than the Atlantic. Opinions are mixed, but Kym Gardner from Marmite has assured me that Marmite (Oh come on! Click on the link!) is indeed gluten-free. I LOVE Marmite. The Swiss equivalent Cenovis states clearly on the label that it contains gluten, but Marmite loves us enough to be gluten-free. How wonderful(ly salty) is that?

So, what have we learned today? Stay away from those British sausages. Blurgh.

Next week we’re moving on to lunch on the High Street.

I must be off,

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring, Sun, South Tyrol

Heading to South Tyrol at the beginning of April is risky. It could have been cool and wet, but it wasn’t. The weekend was warm and sunny—perfect for hiking. So why did I catch a cold? No telling. But it was worth it.

We stayed in the Falkensteiner Hotel Lido outside Bruneck in a little town called Chienes, but the train stop was called Ehrenburg/Casteldarne. Go figure. The Falkensteiner Hotel chain has a good reputation and is equipped to cater for people who need a gluten-free diet (for my CD readers).

We started walking from our hotel along the railroad tracks. After a few wrong turns that led us down a couple muddy paths, two hours later we took our first rest in the quaint village of St. Lorenzen (St. Lorenzo). A few Veneziani later—a popular South Tyrolean cocktail made of Prosecco, Aperol and mineral water—we staggered on our way to Bruneck (Brunico) where we caught the train back to our hotel.

The dinner buffet at Falkensteiner hotels is a playground for foodies. Antipasti prepared with love, a crazy assortment of salads, and unique treats like shrimp wrapped and fried in julienne potato. We ate too much—I guess that goes without saying.

It’s a good thing Sunday was even sunnier than Saturday. For our second walk we first drove south to Meran (Merano). If you haven’t read my Bootsnall article about driving from Munich to Meran and back, have a look at it HERE. We left the car in the Therma parking garage in the middle of Meran and walked to Dorf Tirol a few kilometers from Meran. This part of the walk is a continuous uphill fight, but it gets easier once you reach the apple orchards outside Dorf Tirol.

For a couple of kilometers the path winds up and down, up and down. Then, above the orchards the Schloss Thurnstein appears in the distance. You can zigzag up to the castle, but we didn’t. We had other plans.

From there we walked skyward to the Waalweg Algund path, a popular walk for locals and tourists alike. The path winds around the mountain along an artificial waterway meant certainly to provide irrigation for the vineyards that blanket the region. We stopped at Café Konrad for a drink. As in many of these mountain restaurants, the service was awful. You have to tackle the waiter and beg to be served.

The Waalweg Algund walk is perfect for all ages, but it often grows narrow in places where one false step could land you 50 meters below in a vineyard. So watch your step. Smell the flowers, greet the walkers, take some pictures—but watch your step.

I must be off,

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gluten-free on the Road

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Traveling with Celiac Disease (CD) means you have to do a bit more pre-trip homework than people who can shovel any ole thing in their gobs. If you’re a little like me, you normally stick to salad bars and very plain foods that you know are gluten-free. But if you’re a lot like me—an adventureholic with a voracious appetite—you’ll want to try the local food.

The more you know, the more you can enjoy. Over the next few months, I’m going to share my research with you every Friday as I travel to London, Munich, Nice, Paris, Napels, Vancouver and New York City!

So let’s talk England, specifically my part-time home . . . London. Are you planning a trip to London and wondering where the gluten’s hiding? Well, the bad new is LOTS OF PLACES. The good news is you can avoid these hidden sources of gluten easily if you know what to look for.

Today I want to start with the condiments you’re likely to find in a typical British restaurant or pub. Condiments are a messy, gooey mindfield for people with CD or gluten intolerance.

The Tower is gluten free.
The least likely place you’ll find gluten is malt vinegar. In vinegar? Yes. Malt vinegar is made from barley, but according to Coeliac UK malt vinegar poses no problem for a person with CD. Here’s what they have to say:

"Barley malt vinegar is made using a fermentation process. The end product only contains a trace amount of protein (and therefore gluten), which is well below the level which is safe for most people with coeliac disease. In addition, barley malt vinegar is only usually eaten in small amounts, for example, drained pickled vegetables, sauces with a meal, on chips." Coeliac UK

British mustards may contain flour, so make sure you read the label, and you’ll certainly see soya sauce on the table. Soya sauce—unless it screams gluten-free on the label—has wheat in it. Stay well away from condiments that contain “natural flavourings.”

Heinz ketchup—or as the Brits say tomato sauce—contains “spirit vinegar,” which is not made from barley—yay—so you can slather your chips with ketchup and feel great about it. That said, always read the list of ingredients before you slather. Some ketchups contain the dreaded “natural flavourings.” Although some Heinz products list natural flavourings, Heinz says their ketchups are gluten free.

If you’re interested in doing a bit more research, give this list a look.

For the next few Fridays, I’ll be having a look at the typical tourist day in London—from the English breakfast, lunch on the high street, afternoon tea at The Ritz, dinner in the evening and finally landing at the pub. I’ll also be spotlighting a few gluten-free gems—including the award-winning b-tempted cakes from Sarah Hilleary—around London. You’d be surprised how gluten-free London can be.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire). His fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared widely both online and in print. Read more HERE